Whether a complete beginner, a seasoned novice, or an experienced hypnotist or hypnotherapist, there will be times when you would like to practice a technique or approach (maybe even more than one) and perhaps also get helpful feedback. Practice is just as relevant for entertainment hypnotists (street/stage) working with groups of people, as those engaging in individual hypnotherapy and change-work sessions. This blog will explore different ways of getting that all-important hypnosis practice.
Practice is an essential part of skill development. Of course, if you have never hypnotised anyone before, then it can be helpful to start by doing some exploration. Watch videos of people being hypnotised and read up on the topic. Find out what the myths and misconceptions are as well as how it works, and what could happen when you do it. Also, it can be helpful to get hypnotised yourself, by different people and in varied situations, because whilst what someone else may encounter could be different to your own experience, having an idea about how they might experience being in hypnosis can be a great place to start.
Who can I practice on?
The most available person to practice on… is you! Whether you run through your hypnosis techniques in your head (mental rehearsal) or record them and play them back to yourself, you can experience your own words, the effect of your own suggestions and get a good understanding of how your hypnotic suggestions might be experienced by others. You might even video yourself in the ‘hypnotist role’ and then watch the video from a client or volunteer perspective to see how you look whilst performing hypnosis, and whether there’s anything you might want to change there.
Many people start out by hypnotising their close friends, relatives or partners. Yet this isn’t ideal, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, they know you, as you! Husband, wife, boyfriend, girlfriend, colleague, friend…whatever your relationship is. They may find it difficult to believe you or take you seriously if, out of the blue, you say you are a hypnotist. The ‘hypnotist you’ is a new concept for them, and they may not understand that people can learn hypnosis (going back to the myths, a lot of people think hypnosis is something a person is ‘born with’). So, even if they know you have studied hypnosis, and they believe that you ‘know your stuff’, they are likely to attempt to either ‘help’ you (e.g. by pretending to be hypnotised or acting overly compliant), challenge you, or simply not take you seriously enough, or engage with enough focus, to go into hypnosis. This could have an impact not only on your confidence, but also on theirs. If it doesn’t work well (or at all) the first time, they may then believe it won’t work the next time. As ‘all hypnosis is self-hypnosis‘, they are then less likely to allow themselves to go into hypnosis for any subsequent practice sessions. In the worst case, this lack of belief can then potentially spread amongst other relatives, friends or colleagues, making it even harder to find good practice subjects!
Whilst we may not recommend using your close friends, relatives and partners as practice subjects initially, they can be a great way to connect with others who are not in your immediate social or work circle and who are more likely to regard you as a hypnotist, as they won’t necessarily know you in any other role. Working on ‘friends of friends’ and ‘friends of family’ can be a great solution to connect to people who aren’t as familiar with you, and who don’t necessarily have long-held beliefs about your hypnotic abilities!
Where can I find people to practice on?
If you are new to hypnosis you may yet not have a queue of people wanting to be your practice subject. However, there is much that you can do to let others know what you are offering. Confidence is a key factor, so firstly make sure you know what you will be doing. Preferably bullet point any scripts and then learn the bullet points. Reading from a sheet of paper is not a good way to convey confidence in your abilities. Imagine if your hairdresser, massage therapist, dentist, or surgeon was following instructions from a manual as they worked with you… You’d be nervous, right? So, when you have gained confidence practicing on yourself, then it is time to let people know what you are doing. A great (low pressure) way to do this is to simply use suggestibility tests with people. Small groups are ideal for this, because whilst some people may not be great hypnotic subjects, others will be, and this will better highlight your capabilities. It also means you get to select the most responsive subjects to practice with, if you then choose to practice some actual hypnosis, making your life easy!
Interestingly, with small groups it can feel less ‘intense’ for you as a fledgling hypnotist than with a single person (and all their focus being on you). It can be good to start with just one or two suggestibility tests that you know well, and then build from there. As you start to learn hypnotic inductions, suggestions and techniques, you might start showing people some interesting hypnotic phenomena (e.g. a hand stick). Whether you are more interested in hypnotherapy or using hypnosis for entertainment, developing your skills in the fundamentals will really pay off further on.
Talking of fundamentals, being able to deliver focused and effective hypnotic suggestions is a key skill for any hypnotist. You can practice your use of suggestion in your every day life. Basically, just take a suggestion such as ‘imagine what it would be like if…’ and see how often you can use that phrase during the course of your day. Then, the next day, pick another phrase, such as ‘perhaps…’. This is a wonderful way to integrate these suggestion tools into your everyday language, so that when you use them they sound authentic and natural. Developing your suggestion work does not stop at beginner level, it is something that novices and even advanced practitioners and entertainers will definitely benefit from too.
Perhaps, as you read this, you have more experience hypnotising people; you may already have hypnotised some friends. You could broaden your practice opportunities by asking them to share their positive experiences and your contact details with their other friends and colleagues. At this stage you are likely to have some therapy or entertainment skills so potential recipients will get something out of the exchange (your hypnosis for their time).
Where can I find people to practice WITH?
If you are an experienced practitioner you may have already engaged in the earlier mentioned approaches. However, you might also offer organisations some free sessions or experiences in return for a specific type of feedback. For example, you could offer a charity some free hypnotherapy group sessions, and then ask that the group complete a questionnaire at the end of the sessions. Alternatively, you might offer a local venue a free hypnosis presentation or comedy hypnosis show and get permission to video it. You could then ask others to watch the video and give you feedback.
Whether a complete beginner or seasoned expert, it can really enhance your knowledge and skills to become part of a practice group. This might be local to where you live or work, or may be virtual, such as taking part in a live Zoom or Skype meeting. There are some additional safety and performance measures for virtual work, so this is generally best to start using once you have some ‘real-world’ experience. A practice group gives you the opportunity to work with different people on a regular basis, forming stronger rapport and developing an effective means of asking for and receiving feedback. Some practice groups may be of mixed ability, so you will get a range of depth of informed feedback. In addition to you having opportunities to work with other people, you will also be able to receive hypnosis, this may introduce you to finer nuances and insights that simply wouldn’t be obvious if you were just observing.
If you cannot find a local network of other practitioners where you can offer practice swaps or sessions, create your own. Facebook and other social websites make it super easy to do so. As well as working with other hypnotists or hypnotherapists, it can be good to broaden your outlook, so perhaps work to connect with other talking therapists (e.g. counsellors and psychologists) or other entertainers (e.g. comedians, cabaret artists, magicians and street performers).
Feedback and rapport
Imagine you are doing some impromptu street hypnosis in a park. You get a group of interested individuals engaged in a suggestibility test. Then you ask them for feedback and how it was for them. There will be a difference between finding out what their experience was so you can build on it and use it to inform additional work with them, and finding out about your own performance, so you can improve it. The former can build rapport (a good relationship), the latter (if unexpected) can reduce or lose rapport, or indicate that you lack confidence in your abilities. In contrast, if you were to gather a few friends together and meet up in the local park to run through a few hypnosis tests and activities, with the intention of getting feedback, people will be prepared for that and will be more easily engaged in the process.
In the same way, if you were going to use a new (to you) therapy technique for reducing anxiety, and then at the end of the therapy session with a client you started asking for feedback about your performance (and what you could do differently), and even repeat the technique with them, taking into account that feedback, the client may wonder if you really do know what you are doing. Yet, if you were working with a practice partner you could practice, take their feedback, amend your approach and then use the technique over again, each time getting further beneficial and developmental feedback. How you portray yourself as a hypnotist/hypnotherapist to your volunteers and clients is highly important, so ensure you’re always giving the right message, even when asking for feedback!
Asking for feedback
There are 5 key tips to use when asking for feedback:
- Ask for honest and helpful feedback – and be prepared to receive it!
- Be forward-focused – ask if there’s anything you could do differently in the future rather than criticising what you have done in the past.
- Listen carefully and probe for details – be receptive, show interest, and ask for specifics and fine details. Avoid arguments and defensiveness.
- Avoid judgement – rather than labelling feedback as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, consider it as ‘information’ or ‘data’. Either way, it will help you to improve, or know that you’re on the right track.
- Thank the giver – convey your appreciation of their honesty, and feedback to them that their observations and opinions have been helpful.
There are many different areas of feedback that you might get comments on, relating to your hypnosis skills, or your own presentation. Someone might take a factual approach, such as saying whether the hypnosis was effective for them, met how they expected it to be, or what went wrong (if it did). They may also give you opinions on your delivery, such as whether you appeared genuine or authentic, projected authority or confidence, or comment on aspects relating to your posture, voice, gestures or even appearance! All feedback is useful feedback.
We have talked about getting feedback during practice, yet there is also a ready-to-use feedback source you may not have yet fully made use of. The first time that you hypnotise someone could be a giant milestone in your development as a hypnotist. Make the most of that opportunity and reflect on it afterwards. In fact, reflecting on every time that you hypnotise someone is a great way to develop your knowledge, understanding and skills. Rather than just thinking of what didn’t go well or could have been better (and yes, it is good to think of these), also pay attention to what you did well, so you can do more of that in future.
What can I practice?
It might seem that the obvious answer is hypnosis, yet it is far more than that. Of course, practising your inductions, suggestions and techniques is important. Also, a great awakening technique is an essential part of having your hypnosis client or volunteer go away feeling good. However, there is so much more you can practice. All of your associated direct hypnosis skills, such as answering queries, giving a great pre-talk, discussing self-care activities, even selling your hypnotic services can be practiced and rehearsed so you appear confident and fluent.
Beyond hypnosis settings, many indirect skills can also be practiced in work, social and leisure settings, and even whilst you are travelling. A good example of this is practicing your observation of non-verbal communication. Wherever you are, notice how people ‘talk’ with their bodies and observe whether that body talk is congruent with the verbal talk.
On the topic of verbal talk, when chatting with friends, relatives and colleagues, take time to truly listen to them. You can practice your active listening (e.g. reflecting back, summarising, clarifying details). This is also a great time to ask questions. Great questioning skills are not just a tool for hypnotherapists, an entertainment hypnotist also needs to be able to gain information without others feeling as though they are being interrogated. It can be surprising quite how large an effect good listening skills have on building rapport. Whatever model of hypnosis you are using (therapy, entertainment, even research), hypnosis will be more effective when you generate rapport and a sense of connection with the individual or group. There will be more about this in later blogs. In the meantime, start to notice when you have (and haven’t) got that good connection, and how it happened.
Finally, something that is rarely practiced, yet can be hugely beneficial to gaining positive perceptions and reviews, do remember to take time to work on how you close a session/demonstration and give genuine thanks for your subjects’ participation. Give appropriate and relevant positive feedback about how they have helped you and your development, and let them know how to get in touch with you in the future. The smoother you can make the entire hypnosis process, the more effective you will become overall.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this blog on how to practice hypnosis and find volunteers . If you have any more questions about this topic or anything else for that matter, do please get in touch, because we’re always happy to help!
– written by Dr Kate Beaven-Marks